Lori Silberman Brauner

Why I’m keeping my son in Israel as a war rages on

He is receiving an education and absorbing values far more important than anything he could learn here in New Jersey
Volunteering to pick fruit at Kibbutz Gvulot.
Volunteering to pick fruit at Kibbutz Gvulot.

When we sent my son off to his second gap year at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh three months ago, we did not expect he would be living through a war. Like most Zionists who live in our American-Jewish community of Teaneck, NJ, we wanted our son Daniel to spend time before college living in the land, to experience Israel firsthand, and fall in love with the country that has meant so much to Jewish people over thousands of years.

Like many observant Jews, I was looking forward to the end of the High Holidays, which would culminate in the celebration of Simchat Torah. The whole month of festivals is exhausting, so when Simchat Torah rolled around, I looked forward to speaking to my son, knowing he would tell me about his amazing experience spending the chag in Israel with his friends.

Little did I know that the morning service would be interrupted by the sounds of rocket sirens — and the interception of incoming rockets by Israel’s Iron Dome system. As the yeshiva later explained to us in an email, they were fortunate to be praying in the ground-floor beit midrash, which, in addition to serving as their synagogue, is considered to be better protected than many places on campus. The yeshiva’s fingerprint lock system was activated, and nobody from the outside could get in.

Lev HaTorah is also a hesder yeshiva, hosting lone soldiers who serve in the IDF and come “home” for weekends and holidays, and many of these boys — true role models to my son — had to report to their respective bases that day. Some 138 soldiers in the Lev LaChayal program, Lev alumni, staff, and sons of staff were called up to serve. Life for the remaining students quickly changed, although the daily intensive learning — minus the tiyulim, or trips, continued as scheduled, with informal activities to keep the boys occupied. As a parent living thousands of miles away in New Jersey, it was a relief to know they also had access to two rabbis on staff — trained therapists — if they needed to vent.

While I know that some boys have left the program, I knew my son would never want to, and despite our worry about him living in a country at war, we also wanted him to stay; this would also serve as an important test of his stated desire to make aliya one day. While we, his parents, have been scrolling our newsfeed incessantly, even keeping the TV on over Shabbat, we are not only at peace with Daniel’s decision to remain, we are incredibly proud — having raised him in a Zionist home and enrolled him in schools that emphasized Israel and Hebrew language as part of their values.

I have not been to Israel since the conflict started, but would argue that the education my son is receiving and the values he is absorbing during this time of national crisis are more than anything I could teach him from here. For one, he is seeing an unprecedented sense of achdut, unity, among the entire population of Israel, as everyone — religious and secular, young and old — is doing their part to pitch in on the home front while the soldiers are at war. I was full of nachat, pride, when Daniel’s friend sent me a video of the students stocking the shelves at a neighborhood supermarket in the initial weeks after the war because there were simply not enough workers available. My son also set up an “X” account, LevStandsWithIL, to counter the propaganda of the anti-Israel supporters. And just last week, the students traveled to Kibbutz Gvulot in the South to help the farmers in the fields, picking (literally) tons of fruits and vegetables; they also went shopping in Netivot for treats to distribute to local children. These efforts are just as important, if not more so, than the daily learning that takes place in a yeshiva.

The yeshiva also took a day trip to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) region a month after the war began with the permission of the government’s Moked HaTeva authority. I knew it wasn’t risk-free, but I felt he was in good hands and that it was important to get “out” and see the land they have learned so much about.

All went according to plan until the bus ride back through central Israel, when sirens suddenly sounded signaling incoming rockets. With no shelter in sight, the boys followed the protocol by exiting the bus, crouching on the road and covering their heads for several minutes. I would have absolutely panicked had I known this was happening in real-time, but my son reassured me that he was just fine and feels safe in Israel.

I know many parents under these circumstances would order their kids to fly home from Israel, but we remain resolute in our determination to keep Daniel there through the program’s duration. We did not teach our son to rely on his American citizenship nor to leave when it gets tough in the eternal home of the Jewish people. While we don’t judge anyone who leaves, we believe our son staying put is a vital expression of solidarity with Israel. America may seem safer for now, but just yesterday the ADL released data indicating that since Oct. 7, U.S. antisemitic incidents reached the highest level during any two-month period since the organization began tracking such information in 1979. Bombs may not be raining down on us, but harassment, vandalism and even assault is extremely frightening and rising, and I cannot imagine sending my son to a secular university during this time.

Living through a war is certainly not the experience I had envisioned for Daniel, but I believe the lessons in solidarity, giving back, and maintaining patience and perseverance through hard times is the ultimate embodiment of the values we raised him with. Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Lori Silberman Brauner is a communications associate at SINAI Schools and former deputy managing editor for the New Jersey Jewish News. A lover of travel and exploring Jewish diaspora communities, she is hoping to turn her experiences into a book in the not-so-distant future.
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